In the otherwise dull and drab streets of Pyongyang are to be found these beacons of colour – the beautiful Pyongyang traffic ladies (police).
The need for traffic police, in terms of managing traffic flow at least, is highly questionable given the paucity of vehicular traffic in Pyongyang and the wide boulevards and roads that the little there is has to travel on.
Given Kim Jong-il’s known fondness for beautiful young ladies it would have come as no surprise to me if I had heard that the female traffic ladies were his brain child, but no, it was his father, the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung who introduced the Pyongyang Traffic Ladies. It is said that in the early days he actually personally interviewed and selected them himself. Apparently the Great Leader was of the view that beautiful young ladies directing the traffic was good for road safety as male drivers (females were not permitted to drive here until fairly recently though it is still very rare to see one driving) would pay more attention on the roads than they otherwise might.
While the traffic police includes men and women and indeed men predominate, 99% of those performing point duty (directing traffic) in Pyongyang are female who, based on the guidance of the Great Leader, must be unmarried, beautiful, healthy, between 16 and 26, at least 1.65 metres tall and have graduated from high school. They have an array of uniforms suited to the weather – the ones in my photos are in late spring/ early summer attire – distinguished via black boots (winter/spring) v black shoes and white socks (spring/summer). I do like the look of the furs they wear in the winter. Their wardrobe can be viewed on the site I refer to later in this review.
It is amazing to watch these ladies go about their duty in robotic manoeuvres that would seem less out of place in a ballet. Each move is calculated, precise and decisive. The sight of a black car (99% government vehicles) solicits a salute as does the wave of a camera-less tourist, from the more open and perhaps more mischievous ladies – do give it a go.
Being classified military personnel, taking photos of the traffic ladies is technically forbidden but this is not enforced. That said, these camera shy young ladies have the eyes of a hawk and the merest move of a camera will result in them turning their back on you. You have to be quick or have a decent zoom lens.
Lest anyone think these ladies are mere tourist attractions I can assure you they are not. While I was waiting outside the foreign language bookshop for others to complete their shopping a trolleybus broke down on the major intersection in front of me. Given the every limited amount of other traffic the breakdown certainly wasn’t causing any problem to traffic flow. Nevertheless, the traffic lady marched over and, while I couldn’t hear and wouldn’t have understood it anyway, very firm instructions were given to the driver to remove his vehicle. There was no discussion, the driver returned to the vehicle and moved it, probably causing significant damage to it and the overhead power lines in the process.
My final picture shows one of the few male traffic police in Pyongyang, but common outside the city. This officer was responsible for the free flow of buses outside the Kim Il-Sung Stadium on the day of the Pyongyang Marathon. Again his instructions were obeyed without question or comment.
At one stage, a few years ago, when traffic lights were introduced there was talk that the traffic ladies would be phased out. When it dawned on the authorities that traffic lights needed a steady supply of electricity to function properly, something which Pyongyang doesn’t have, it was decided that the traffic ladies would be retained. As such, many of them are now relegated to standing by the roadside monitoring the traffic lights and intervening as necessary when they break down.
The traffic ladies of Pyongyang have attained something of a cult status both within and outside North Korea. There is even a website (based outside North Korea) – http://www.pyongyangtrafficgirls.com/ “dedicated to the world-renowned traffic-women of the DPRK”.
I suspect the traffic ladies of Pyongyang are there to stay and as tourist numbers increase I predict their numbers will also increase. In an otherwise non-commercially orientated country, Pyongyang traffic barbies (dolls) can be picked up in most souvenir shops.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Three Revolutions Exhibition– or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other